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Short, Classic, and More

I haven't written about books in a while but that doesn't mean I haven't been reading them. In fact, I'm still on pace to meet my goal of reading 52 this year, which makes me happy. Here's what I've been reading since early February...

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain - I've read this novel before, of course. It's hard to go through  high school and then be an English major in college during two different decades and not have read it. Why reread it now? This novel ties into the large paper I am writing so I can graduate with an English degree in a couple months. I remembered quite a bit of the novel and found myself enjoying it all over again. I had forgotten the complete tonal shift of the novel when Tom Sawyer enters the scene; it was my least favorite part.

Stay Awake by Dan Chaon - This is Chaon's first story collection in quite a while. I've read the previous one, Among the Missing, as well as his two subsequent novels. This collection is unnerving and fascinating. The characters all seem to be missing vital pieces of themselves, often their memory. The collection sets a mood and stays strongly in it. Had I kept notes I could talk more about the individual stories but suffice it to say that this is well worth reading.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander - I read this story collection at the same time as the Chaon, which allowed for alleviating the tone of Stay Awake. This is my first experience with Englander, who was celebrated for his first collection back in the late 90s. He is a writer concerned with the Jewish experience. The title story tells of a meeting between two couples who haven't seen each other in many years because one couple moved to Israel to be very Jewish. In another story, the elderly denizens of a summer camp persecute a man they believe to have been a Nazi. I found the stories uneven but overall was glad I spent some time with them.

The Mirage by Matt Ruff - I am forever a fan of Ruff for his novel Set This House in Order, which I loved. Seriously, if you haven't read it, you should. This novel is an alternate reality story where the attacks on 9/11 didn't happen because they happened on 11/9 and instead of an attack on New York by Muslims, it was an attack on Baghdad by Christians. The changes in the world go back much farther than 2001 as well. Many famous figures are characters in the novel, such as Saddam Hussein, but I was much more interested in the team tracking down the existence of artifacts from a world where things happened differently (our real world). Confusing? Maybe. The book uses Wikipedia-type pages to fill you in on the history of this other world, a device that I did not like at first but slowly grew to like. This book is really fascinating and well worth reading, even if it doesn't reach the heights of Set This House in Order.

Wild Thing by Josh Bazell - I was a big fan of Bazell's first novel, Beat the Reaper. It felt fresh and exciting. This is a sequel that features the same main character in a completely new adventure but just doesn't click in the same way. It might have something to do with what he gets mixed up in - an American Loch Ness monster of sorts. There is still some humor and a gorgeous girl he circles around but it felt like diminishing returns.

Flatscreen by Adam Wilson - I'm a fan of slacker novels, where the slacker du jour gets into misadventures and maybe grows up a little along the way. The voice and the humor tend to go a long way in these types of novels. This one in particular gave it a good try but ultimately didn't knock me out. I almost gave up on it a few times but stuck it out. It's not that it was bad; it just wasn't great. Oh well.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald - This was another reread for my paper. I remembered much of this book as well, except for the big plot twist. I certainly see why it retains its classic status after all these years and if it's something you haven't read, I suggest picking it up. It's less than 200 pages and very readable.


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